Kevin Zhang's (b. 1988) work has been recorded on Perishable Records and heard at the Electroacoustic Barn Dance, Make Music New York, Puerto Rican Sound Art Fair, Redshift Society; and at the NACUSA National, Oregon Bach, Studio 300, UCDavis Arts’ Music and Words, UCSB Primavera, UCSD Spring, and Westfield New Music festivals. Performers of his music have included the American Creators, CMU New Music, Contemporary Consort, Generous, Negative Zed, Now Hear, Ossian, Palimpsest, Red Note, and soundSCAPE ensembles; the NEC Honors, Radnofsky, and SŌ Percussion quartets; and the members of the London Sinfonietta, red fish blue fish, and UCI Opera.
Kevin grew up in New York and lived in Boston and London before moving to Southern California in 2010. Currently, he is completing a PhD at the University of California, San Diego, where his adviser is the composer Roger Reynolds, and where he also studied with Lei Liang, Katharina Rosenberger, and Rand Steiger.Mini-interview with Kevin Zhang
Where are you from? Does that have any influence on your music? If so, how?
I'm a New Yorker, growing up in outer Queens, and eventually transiting myself back and forth between school in the Bronx and arts internships and orchestra rehearsals in Manhattan. It's obviously difficult to pinpoint the specifics of tangible causation in the holistic web of "influence," but coming from this place that was the nexus of the uptown-downtown music worlds, I think I was aware from a young age of how different and dynamic the approaches and philosophies can be as to how art is valued and used.
When did you start composing and why?
I began "composing" almost as immediately as when my mom signed me up for piano lessons at age nine. It just seemed like a logical thing to do, something that one COULD do. I never really had any romantic epiphanies or anything of that sort; composing just stemmed naturally as a practice from playing and listening to music. I began more formal studies when I was sixteen, with a New York composer named Eleanor Cory who was teaching a class at a community weekend music program, and she was a very encouraging and supportive figure at that point in my musical life.
What, if any, was the most inspirational experience you have had as a composer? (It could be a lesson, a piece, a concert, a sound, a walk, a bus trip, an image, etc.)
I had two musical introductions as an early teenager that were instantly formative. At the first live orchestra concert I ever attended, I remember being blown away by the intensity of the saturation of sounds thrown at me left and right in the second movement of Shostakovich's tenth symphony. I think it was the first time I realized the disorienting, visceral power of classical music. I remember also being completely sucked in by the other-worldly sounds that could emanate from ordinary musical instruments when I first heard a recording of the opening Liturgie de cristal of Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Without these two experiences, I never make the decision to pursue becoming a composer as a career choice.
What is most important to you when writing a piece?
It's a bit of an abstract and a very generalized idea, but with every project I embark on, I try to have some component of it where I'm not certain how and if it will work. This to me is what makes the live and experiential component of concert music so worth it as medium to work in and devote my artistic life to. It could be as simple as a balance of a timbral effect or the injection of an unexpected event, or something more complicated, such as playing with some sort of a structural process or attempting to illuminate a hidden and underlying non-musical metaphor. These days, I'm not so concerned with the "success" of how a piece sounds, as much as how productive of a process the experience of the piece can be, both for me (before, during, and after) and for a listener (during, and hopefully, after).
What's the title of your new work?
quavered quavers on the wall / who's the quavest of them all
Describe in a few sentences what your new work is about.
The oboe-percussion duet I wrote for Christian and Olaf is a piece about presentation and re-presentation. I wanted to explore the acts of repetition and periodicity, but not in a pulsing, beating, or droning way. It's a piece where same things happen multiple -- often successive -- times, exploring how fluctuations to reiterated events can, in and of themselves, provide a certain new constancy.
Kevin Zhang's quavered quavers on the wall / who's the quavest of them all along with 8 other works by young composers from around the globe will be premiered by the Trio SurPlus at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory's Orchestra Hall on 12 July 2015 at 7:30pm.